I teach a Healing Art class a few times a year in Austin, Texas. I teach the class as a survivor of an aggressive cancer. I was diagnosed 15 years ago and given 6 months to live.
As I wrote in this article, everyone experiences pain. This is something I think actually links all of us as human beings. Everyone of us is, in one way or another, part of the walking wounded.
How do we deal with that pain? Do we grow from it, use it to motivate us, use it to connect to others? Or do we try to suppress it?
When people don’t acknowledge their pain, when they try to suppress it, I think that’s when dysfunction occurs. If you read the psychological profiles of murderers and abusers… weren’t they all abused as children? When someone lashes out — is it because he’s evil, or is it a cry for help?
Emotional pain is a lot like a physical wound. It needs to be treated.
I was reading a novel a while back set in a fantasy universe. One of the characters was injured in a hunting accident but didn’t want the protagonist to treat the wound because she (the main character) was an outsider. So he kept the injury hidden. Not only did he not heal, but he lost the use of his arm.
We know we should get our physical injuries treated. We use antiseptic ointments and band-aids, or we go to the hospital if it’s serious enough. Our society acknowledges the need for people to have access to medical care.
But what about the importance of treating our non-physical injuries?
How often do people pretend they don’t hurt because they don’t want to appear weak or incapable? How often do we numb the pain through substance abuse — a few drinks or a pill or a smoke. Or maybe porn.
The thing is, no one wants to really feel their emotional pain because it hurts. I’ve had a mastectomy and an aggressive cancer, I’ve gone through chemo, radiation, the whole nine yards. I’d still rather take that, any day, then deal with the pain of losing a loved one. Emotional pain sucks.
But you can’t avoid it if you want to heal. You have to walk through that tunnel if you want to get out the other side, into the light. No one can do it for you. You’ve got to have the courage to do it yourself.
Which is not to say you can’t get help. Just remember, even if you do, ultimately you’re still responsible. Which is empowering — you get to choose how fast you go. You can choose to rip the band-aid off, or take it off slowly.
The important thing is that you create a safe space for yourself to feel.
You might decide to read self-help books and do the exercises. Or talk to a friend you trust. Or ask your priest (or rabbi, or imam — whatever floats your boat) to counsel you. Sometimes churches have ministries dedicated to helping hurting people.
When my husband left, I plugged into my church’s Stephen Ministry. I met with someone for lunch every week who had been trained to provide grief counseling. In addition, however, we agreed I needed more. So I also went to a professional therapist once a week.
More and more people are doing this, and if it’s something you need, there is no reason to be ashamed. It doesn’t mean you are broken any more than the rest of us.
And you may need even more. You might need medication. You might need a lawyer.
If the cause of your emotional pain is an abusive marriage, then getting out is imperative to your healing. You can’t focus on healing old wounds if new ones keep being added.
These are all tools you can use to help facilitate healing. Another tool, at least for me, is art. I find that when I am painting, I am able to express emotions that it’s sometimes hard for me to tap into otherwise.
This is one reason I teach my Healing Art classes. I use my own experience to try to help others engage deeply with their own pain. It sounds sadistic, but it’s not. I don’t want people to hurt, but I know that if they don’t allow themselves to feel, they can’t heal. Sometimes people cry during my class, but they will leave feeling lighter.
But art is not what works for everyone. Thankfully there are many different options out there. The important thing is — if you have had a traumatic experience, be gentle with yourself. And be courageous enough to deeply feel your pain. Allow yourself to process it so that you can heal.
Previously published on medium
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.